Did anyone notice that we all ventured a little further than we’ve ever been, simply by staying at home? This year, most of us joined half the world’s population in experiencing a form of stay-at-home orders with the aim of stalling COVID-19, the global health crisis that will ultimately define our new decade.
In an instant, our schools, workplaces, communities, and daily routines came to a halt. For some, the interruption has been manageable. For others, it’s been devastating. But for everyone, this moment in time has prompted agility and creativity like never before.
At the core has been our ability to stay connected to the very things that make our lives productive and meaningful. And throughout this crisis, broadband connectivity has emerged as the vascular lifeline of the home making it all possible. While we could never have predicted a scenario which demanded such a fast and full reliance on connectivity, as one of the world’s leading converged broadband, TV, and mobile providers, we demonstrated we were more than prepared.
For our nearly 11 million customers in Europe including the U.K., we have ensured our networks stayed well ahead of the 30 percent increases in consumption each year. During COVID-19 the connectivity consumption was even higher, around 70 percent. Within the past seven years, Liberty Global has invested nearly €20 billion to be the broadband connectivity leader at scale in our markets, bringing gigabit broadband speeds and ultra-capacity to millions of homes and businesses.
And because we’ve always dared to go further, our customers and communities have been able to go further today — when it matters most. At the onset of the pandemic, many of our customers transitioned seamlessly to home working and remote learning. Meetings and classes turned to Zoom calls from every corner of our flats and gardens.
Across our markets, we saw network demands jump by 39 percent in the initial weeks of stay-at-home orders. And by March, our networks’ peak upstream period extended from two evening hours to a new all-day peak. Our customers were using nine million more devices on our networks each day, including 45 percent more connected Windows computers and MacBooks — pointing to vast increases of online working, learning, and collaboration at home.
In the U.K., our customers helped grow online retail sales by 200 percent through May. With many adopting new online grocery habits, expectations show online grocery sales will increase well into 2021. Meanwhile, the future of health care has arrived. Six short months ago, we were envisioning the benefits our 1Gb/s broadband speeds would serve telemedicine in the coming years. Today, remote patient consultations have been doubling week over week in the U.K., bringing years of anticipated progress to the now.
And the trend is similar for digital banking, which in Europe, is thought to have moved forward two years since the COVID-19 crisis began. Our customers are making the most of this fast-evolving digital world from their very own living rooms. And in fact, at Liberty Global, our experience has been very much the same.
As the pandemic closed markets across our footprint, we quickly mobilized our 27,000-strong enterprise to work successfully from home. For our customers and our people, the dependency on a robust, reliable network with exceptional speed couldn’t have been clearer.
So it may be that very timely, real-world use that crystalized our motivation to carry out the largest deal in our company’s 30-year mergers and acquisitions history… from our own living rooms.
With the strategic view that the way forward for Europe lies in creating truly converged fixed-mobile challengers, Liberty Global reached an agreement with Telefonica to merge our respective Virgin Media and O2 UK businesses into a 50/50 joint venture. The combined entity will produce national scale to compete effectively with the incumbent telecoms company, offer greater investment power toward infrastructure and innovation, deliver enhanced benefits to the customer and wider U.K. market, and invest £10 billion in the U.K. over the next five years.
The deal, valued at €35 billion, was negotiated and agreed amidst the backdrop of COVID-19. In fact all of us at Liberty Global and Telefonica and our advisers worked from our garden rooms, basements and attics using online video tools. It marks Liberty Global’s efforts to venture further, making sure the networks we rely on today remain fit for the future.
As the world begins reuniting, re-emerging, and restoring a version of our new normal, we will no doubt lean on our learnings and flex our adaptability as we need. Now we know what we can do, what we can achieve when we stay connected — even apart.
We can go a long way even if we’re simply staying home.
This blog originally was published in Politico Europe.